Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Cyril of Alexandria

“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Desiring to win over the whole world and bring its inhabitants to God the Father, raising all things to a higher condition and, in a sense, renewing the face of the earth, the Lord of the universe took the form of a servant and brought the good news to the poor. This, he said, was why he had been sent.

Now by the poor we may understand those who were then deprived of all spiritual blessings and who lived in the world without hope and without God, as scripture says.

They are those among the Gentiles who, enriched by faith in Christ, have gained the divine, the heavenly treasure, which is the saving proclamation of the gospel. Through this they have become sharers in the kingdom of heaven and companions of the saints.

They have inherited blessings impossible to express or comprehend, “for eye has not seen,” says scripture, “nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

To the brokenhearted Christ promises healing and release, and to the blind he gives sight. For those who worship created things, and say to a piece of wood, “You are my father,” and to a stone, “You gave me birth,” thus failing to recognize him who is really and truly God, are they not blind? Are not their hearts devoid of the spiritual and divine light?

To these the Father sends the light of true knowledge of God. Having been called by faith, they know God, or rather, they are known by him. They were children of night and of darkness, but they have become children of light. The Day has shone upon them, the Sun of Righteousness has risen, the Morning Star has appeared in all its brilliance.

All that has been said, however, could also be applied to the Israelites, for they too were poor, brokenhearted, captives in a certain sense, and in darkness.

But Christ came, and it was to the Israelites first that he made known the purpose of his coming: he came to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of retribution.

That was the acceptable year, when Christ was crucified for us, for then we became acceptable to God the Father. Through Christ we bear fruit, as he himself taught us when he said: “I tell you truly that unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains as it is, a single grain; but if it dies, it bears a rich harvest; and again: When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw the whole world to myself.”

Moreover, on the third day he came to life again, after trampling death’s power underfoot. He then addressed these words to his disciples: All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

(On Isaiah 5, 5: PG 70, 1352-1353)

Cyril of Alexandria (d.444) succeeded his uncle Theophilus as patriarch in 412. Until 428 the pen of this brilliant theologian was employed in exegesis and polemics against the Arians; after that date it was devoted almost entirely to refuting the Nestorian heresy. The teaching of Nestorius was condemned in 431 by the Council of Ephesus at which Cyril presided, and Mary’s title, Mother of God, was solemnly recognized. The incarnation is central to Cyril’s theology. Only if Christ is consubstantial with the Father and with us can he save us, for the meeting ground between God and ourselves is the flesh of Christ. Through our kinship with Christ, the Word made flesh, we become children of God, and share in the filial relation of the Son with the Father.

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson